On Tuesday afternoon the House Ways and Means Committee concluded the public hearing on HB 632, the bill that would repeal the Education Tax Credit scholarship program in 2020. This school year 413 low-income children utilize the program to attend schools of their family’s choosing. If the program ends, they will be forced back into educational environments that do not fit their needs.
The House Ways and Means Committee will vote on the repeal bill, HB 632, on Wednesday, March 13th starting at 10:00am. See the TAKE ACTION section below for more information.
This time Chairman Susan Almy allowed sufficient time for each person to provide testimony, unlike the original hearing date. She kept the hearing open until all people present had the opportunity to speak.
Although fewer students and families were in attendance, they greatly outnumbered those that support the repeal. The committee heard story after story about the tremendous impact the ETC program makes in the lives of at-risk students. Even with the extra time, many people were called after they left and a large student group left before having the opportunity to testify.
We blogged the entire hearing on our Facebook page in a series of posts.
Only a few people testified in support of the repeal effort and two identified themselves as retired teachers. One falsely claimed that private schools are not accountable, ignorant that the state Department of Education must approve all nonpublic schools every five years and meet the requirements specified in Ed 400 of the NH Code of Administrative Rules. Most if not all nonpublic schools also go through periodic additional accreditation processes, including but not limited to the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) and Northern New England Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists, Inc (NNEC). Additionally, private schools are accountable to their families. Because they are schools of choice, they must satisfy their families’ expectations otherwise they will leave. This is a significant distinction between private and public schools, especially for low-income families.
The bogus assertion that the ETC program is funded via taxpayer money continued. The few supporters of the bill repeatedly claimed that private donations belong to the state before businesses and individuals pay taxes and it was echoed by Chairman Almy.
Andrea Elliot from Bishop Brady talked about how important it is to have options for children’s learning needs; education is not one-size-fits-all. She also said that there are over 177,000 students enrolled in NH public schools this year, and only 413 children utilizing the ETC program. The scholarship is miniscule compared to public-school enrollment and doesn’t merit the attacks to repeal it. Chairman Almy repeatedly stated that the ETC program “is designed to be a threat to the public-school system.” That is not substantiated by the number of scholars relative to public-school enrollment.
Several ETC supporters pointed out that there are five other tax credit programs in New Hampshire, yet only the Education Tax Credit is targeted for repeal. It is the only one that supports our at-risk students.
Another retired teacher opposed to the scholarship program said she is alarmed that “so many parents choose to send their children to religious schools with the ETC scholarship.” She failed to realize that the families, not the scholarship organizations or the government, are selecting the schools and that it would be discriminatory to exclude religious schools from the ETC program.
An attorney from the Institute for Justice, David Hodges, testified that the ETC program is fully constitutional. He explained the establishment and free-exercise clauses of the constitution that require religious neutrality and the rights of individuals to practice religion without interference. This was clearly shown in the recent Trinity Lutheran case ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States. He also talked about the discriminatory origins of the Blaine Amendment which is included in the constitutions of many states, including New Hampshire.
Bianca Ford and her husband have 12 children, two of which attend a private school with the support of the Education Tax Credit scholarship program. She said that they wouldn’t have the resources to provide these educational opportunities for her children without the scholarship’s help.
Stephanie Alicea shared her son’s story with the committee. Her son, Samuel, then 16-years old, was bullied and threatened repeatedly, even by adults, because he kneeled at a football game to express his political views. Their family vehicles had windshields shot out by bb-guns while parked at their homes. Samuel’s friends warned him that other students threatened to bring knives and guns to school to hurt him. School authorities were not responsive to the escalating threats so the family had no choice but to seek educational alternatives. Thanks to the ETC scholarship, Samuel was able to attend a private school where he could be safe and accepted. In closing, she said, “Willful ignorance will vote against the ETC program.”
“Willful ignorance will vote against the ETC program.”
Another mom, Wendy, told the committee that her son’s pediatrician advised he be in an individualized educational environment and he would likely be bored and underserved in a standard school. The doctor wrote that when the boy was only three-years old. At his local public school, he was repeatedly picked on and beaten by other students because he was academically accelerated. A student assaulted him three times and the administration only talked to the child. He is now in an educational environment where he can thrive academically and be safe.
David Morey told the committee that he and his wife are raising their grandson, Gabriel. The boy had an IEP that the school did not satisfy, and they knew “something had to change.” Gabe is now enrolled in a Montessori school where he is receiving services, gaining confidence, making friends, and accepted for who he is. In closing, he said, “This would not be possible without the ETC scholarship.”
A single-mom, Katherine, talked about the importance of educational options for children with neurodiversity issues. She said, “Teachers can only do so much in a mainstream environment. They are only human and can’t do everything to and for all students at all times.”
Christy Whipple of Newport Montessori School explained the rigorous accountability standards for private schools. Not only must they meet the DOE approval requirements every five years, many seek additional accreditation. They must also satisfy families’ expectations.
A couple representatives had more to add to the hearing.
Rep Werner Horn said. “The ETC program is a more efficient and more compassionate way to fund education.”
“The ETC program is a more efficient and more compassionate way to fund education.”
Rep Alicia Lekas is a member of the House Education Committee and stated that the committee has heard many bills concerned about how to fund education, especially for our neediest children. She said the ETC program is “one of the most effective programs in NH to support these children.”
Christine Latino from St Joseph Regional School said the “ETC program gives low-income children an opportunity for an education that fits their needs. It is fair to give them an opportunity to thrive.” Her school does additional fundraising to support their low-income families so they can have this educational option for their children.
Kerry McDonald, an education-policy expert with the Cato Institute and the Foundation for Economic Education, said that the Education Tax Credit “breeds innovation.” She highlighted BigFish Learning Community in Dover that has one scholarship student. It is a protype for educational innovation and “should be championed and modeled, not attacked.”
Another single-mom, Michelle, talked about how her daughter chose the option of attending a private high school after previously attending a private elementary school then returning to public education. She said her daughter is thriving at her school, involved in activities that she probably never would have tried in a public-school setting. She said she wants to “provide as much support to my daughter as possible to succeed in life. The ETC scholarship makes it possible.”
Businessman Harold Turner pointed out that the state has five other tax-credit programs, yet the Education Tax Credit, the only one in the state that serves low-income students, is targeted for repeal. He also said that “As adults, we should do no harm. Repealing the program would harm NH children.”
“As adults, we should do no harm. Repealing the program would harm NH children.”
Amanda, a junior at Bishop Brady, spoke eloquently about her difficulty accessing sufficiently challenging academics at her local public school. She said that she tried to get into advanced classes at her local school, but was repeatedly denied. The administration said they were only available to upperclassmen and they didn’t want to set a precedent of making them available to underclassmen. Amanda said “I am afraid I will have to go back to my public school if the ETC is repealed. I am afraid of leaving my friends. I am afraid of not having the academic rigor I need to pursue my college plans.”
“I am afraid I will have to go back to my public school if the ETC is repealed. I am afraid of leaving my friends. I am afraid of not having the academic rigor I need to pursue my college plans.”
Another mom, Natalia, immigrated to the United States, and specifically to New Hampshire, because she was looking for freedom. Two of her adopted children are scholarship recipients and are able to attend a private school where they can adjust to their new community with less social pressures. She said the “ETC program is an investment in our children.”
Several additional people gave compelling testimony and personal stories. We thank them all for addressing the committee and sharing.
The House Ways and Means Committee votes on the bill next Wednesday, March 13th at 10:00am. We can still make efforts to share information about the ETC program and personal stories with them. It is important to continue reaching out to them, and thinking ahead, to your state representatives who will also vote on the bill.
CALL: Phone calls can be especially effective, particularly if you share what educational opportunities mean to you and your family. Mention if you are a constituent. Here is the committee members’ contact information.
EMAIL: This can be effective and is one of the easiest ways to communicate with the committee. You may use this easy tool to send an email to the committee and your state reps, urging them to reject the ETC repeal bill. The message can be customized for even greater impact. Please share the link with your friends and family, too.
You can also send your testimony to the committee; be sure to ask that it is included in the permanent record for the bill. You can also send a copy to us at email@example.com if you would like us to consider publishing it.
A brief group email takes only moments. Their emails are below for an easy copy/paste.
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